Slovenia has always had a special place in my heart, and I never knew why. I suspect that it may be because many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone could they find it on a map. In an e-mail I sent to a family member while staying there, I had to clarify where I was. Slovenia? What’s that? It was part of the former Yugoslavia. Oh? Why are you there? This actually happened a couple of times. The fact that the region spent most of the 1990s mired in war and genocide has a lot to do with this perception. Was there really a single piece of positive news coming from the former Yugoslavia that would’ve been covered by the BBC or CNN? The intrigue for me, I suppose, was that Slovenia was such an unknown destination. It could have been paradise, or it could be hell. Either way, I was about to find out.
When I first stepped off the train on a Sunday afternoon in Slovenia’s capital city of Ljubljana I was surprised at the lack of activity. I should have suspected this, as I had ridden in that morning from Venice on a nearly empty train. Venturing into the center of town, I crossed the only significant landmark I recognized from a guide book I’d read a few days earlier: The Triple Bridge. It was little more than three stone bridges situated side-by-side spanning the Ljubljanica River, which runs through the center of town. Walking along the river to my hostel, I passed dozens of small shops and cafes; the architecture was surprisingly similar to that found in Paris. While the old city was mostly empty, the cityscape was incredible.
The next day I wandered around with some friends I had made the night before. As we passed the Laško Brewery – one of Slovenia’s best-known beers – one friend, a Ljulbljana native, pointed out some minor visible damage that the building had sustained. The damage came from an artillery shell that exploded during Slovenia’s Ten-Day War, which came on the heels of Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Other than that, the city’s architecture was both very old and in excellent condition. It was a bit surprising seeing cars on the streets, as the architecture had the effect of placing me in a different time period altogether.
We hiked up to Ljubljana Castle, a fortress built in the 12th Century. After we reached the summit, we noticed that a funicular took riders up to the castle from the city below; if you’re going to go, I’d recommend you take the funicular. Prices here! If you make it to the castle, you must climb to the tower. The tower offers a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding hills. From here, you’ll notice that Ljubljana truly is a medieval city that has been preserved for the present day.
I spent nearly an entire day wandering around the side streets of Ljubljana, discovering the eclectic architecture around me. The city has a number of historic cathedral, but after just leaving Italy, I had already seen my share of them. It’s interesting to see the 21st century slowly encroaching on the historic cityscape, and I feel that Ljubljana does a stellar job of adding modern conveniences such as ATMs and vending machines into small nooks and crannies around the city.
The Old City has many cafes and pubs, and oddly a lot of excellent pizza parlors. Be sure to wash down your pizza with a Laško (pronounced “LOSH-kuh”) Dark beer. I noticed that most young people in Ljubljana are very outgoing and eager to carry on conversations in English. Unlike many other Europeans, Slovenes don’t seem to want to talk about soccer all the time; I see this as a plus. Spend a few hours at a pub, and you’re sure to make a few new friends in this majestic old city
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